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In 1841, the British took Hong Kong Island, and it wasn’t long before Chinese people and Westerners were segregated in many areas of life – a phenomenon that was to develop and persist for decades to come. Sheung Wan, which sits west of Victoria, or modern-day Central, was designated a Chinese area, but atrocious hygiene and crowded living conditions made life unbearable for the Chinese inhabitants there. An influx of migrants from mainland China from 1850s onwards further exacerbated the situation. Many of these individuals toiled and struggled for years and eventually died alone, in this foreign place, without any family or friends to take care of their departure. The neighbourhood around Tai Ping Shan Street at the heart of this Chinese settlement was even ground zero for a horrific outbreak of the bubonic plague in the late 19th century – a deeply poignant irony given the fact that Tai Ping Shan actually means “Peaceful Hill” in Chinese.
Today, Tai Ping Shan Street and its surrounding lanes have transformed into a trendy enclave of cafes, galleries and boutiques, but one only has to look closely to find remnants of Sheung Wan’s macabre past. On this walking tour, we’ll take a trip back in time to see how the Chinese population of the area lived in the second half of the 19th century, and in particular, how the grim spectre of death hung over them, as well as how it shaped the subsequent political and social developments of Hong Kong. Besides, we’ll visit some local institutions and discuss death rituals in Chinese culture, digging deep into their history and meaning.
• Navigate the Tai Ping Shan Street area, searching for stories of death and discussing their influence on Hong Kong’s history and development. In particular, we’ll visit a deceptively typical Chinese temple, and find out how it has solaced many rootless souls for the past 157 years.
• Set foot on the epicentre of the devastating plague of 1894, and learn about how the crisis changed the fate of Hong Kong forever.
• Hear some of the ghost stories associated with the area, and visit a couple of death-related trades that still linger amid the forces of gentrification that grip Sheung Wan today.